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Heather Huynh

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Heather Huynh was born in Minneapolis, MN in 1992. She is a student at the University of Minnesota and has competed for the U.S. National Taekwondo Team. Her mother was born in Long An, Vietnam, in 1962. She and her family left Vietnam in 1981 on a boat. They lived in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines before coming to the United States in 1982.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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“My Mother’s Sacrifice”
April 30, 1975 was a day that forever changed the history of Vietnam. It marks the day the North Communist Vietnam Party took over Vietnam, known as the Fall of Saigon. Among the mass of 1.5 million Vietnamese people who attempted to flee by boat to find a better life, my mother and uncle were among these people. They escaped and were separated from my grandparents and their 5 siblings. They left Vietnam in 1981 and arrived in the United States in 1982. My mother was 18 at the time and the older sibling and took care of my uncle. Her journey by boat was treacherous as many other Vietnamese boat people. The days were long and food and water was scarce. At times, their journey seemed hopeless, and thankfully their boat did not encounter any Thai pirates, unlike many other unfortunate Vietnamese boat people. My uncle at times was sick, and my mother was afraid that he would not make it. After one week of being at sea with other people, they arrived at a Malaysian refugee camp called Pulau Bidong. My mother and uncle were at that camp for about 5 and a half months. After, they transferred to another refugee camp in the Philippines called Bataan and stayed for another 5 and a half months. It was during this time that their paperwork was being processed to be accepted in the United States. They were accepted to the United States in Seattle, Washington. My mother and uncle were among the 823,000 refugees the U.S. accepted. Mr. and Mrs. Cotton, a Caucasian couple who were ministers, sponsored them. They later relocated to Minnesota after learning about the Vietnamese community here and also because of friends they knew back in Vietnam. Like other immigrants and being considered a refugee, my mother’s English was very limited and there was a language barrier. Even though she encountered hardships, she never gave up and was determined to be a successful businesswoman to help provide for her family. With her limited English and skills, she used what she could and finished her degree here in the United States and later opened her own business. She shared with me that she worked hard because she did not want to work under anyone else. Because of her sacrifices, I am fortunate enough to receive the opportunities that I have now in this land of freedom. Also, with her sacrifice to come to the United States, I am able to pursue my passion of Taekwondo and made it onto the U.S. National Taekwondo Team in the summer of 2014 and was able to wear USA on my back at the World Championships in Mexico and brought back a bronze medal for my country. I am fortunate for many things in this country and it’s all because of my mother’s sacrifices. The immigration and sacrifice of the Vietnamese boat people have provided life-changing opportunities for future generations, and their journeys should not be forgotten.